Being involved with a small group community has proven to be one of the biggest blessings in my life, especially during a period of such uncertainty. I have witnessed firsthand a multitude of benefits from being a part of a small group community, but I want to focus on a few of the main purposes (growing, serving, and encouraging/supporting one another) and how they have made the current stay at home order easier to handle.
At the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when rules and regulations limited groups to 50 people or less, we hosted the online service in our home with our immediate small group. Worshipping together in our living room with friends was one of the coolest and most intimate church service experiences I have had the privilege of attending. Since that time, our at-home church services have slowly waned to my husband and I alone, but having a group of friends to discuss the sermon with more in depth later on makes it feel as normal as it can be at this time. Other than attending services together on Sundays, we meet on a weekly basis as a small group for an hour and a half of Bible study. Normally, this is done in person at the church or in one of our homes, but recently, we have adapted to completing the sessions online via Zoom. Although we cannot share the same space, this time of studying the Word and pushing each other to understand and seek God’s purpose for our lives and marriages has been a highlight of my week over the past month or so.
Beyond continuing to grow together in faith, one of my favorite parts of being in a small group is serving together. I am a “show the love of Christ toward others with my own two hands and feet” kind of girl to the core. I’m sure you’ve all heard the quote about the church not being a building but rather the body of believers. At Riverlawn, we are constantly reminded to “Be the Church” and to be “All In”. This isn’t always easy, but it is the crucial role we must take in order for the Lord to save as many lost souls possible; we must put what we learn and study into action. Doing things that matter for eternity (anything that will point others to Christ) should be our constant mentality and focus. Even though we have not been able to meet as an entire group to serve others in our community over the last month, we have had the unique opportunity to become creative in our service. We have been encouraging one another to go the extra mile and chat with our neighbors from across the lawn (since everyone and their mom is outside right now), get to know those around us better, and check in on past neighbors/friends/acquaintances via texts/emails/letters. We have had the privilege in our group to participate in everything from sharing our faith through letters to neighbors to leaving goodie bags or desserts with notes of encouragement on doorsteps of our friends and neighbors. Planning resurrection-themed Easter egg hunts for the kids in our immediate communities was also a fun way that we found to put other first. Sometimes serving doesn’t have to be so physical. Meeting the emotional needs of others is still serving “the least of these”. To be honest, giving of your time and being available to listen and support someone who just needs a friend, can be more of a sacrifice than doing manual labor for an hour or two. Both are excellent, but in a time like the present, our small group has been focusing on “thinking outside of the box” when it comes to serving while still social distancing.
Above all else, I have enjoyed the relationships built through our small group the most. Before joining a group at Riverlawn, I had only met 2 of the 8 couples that we are now close friends with. When you attend a church as big as ours, it is vital to get plugged into a small group and/or various other ministries in order to feel connected and be able to make the biggest difference for Christ. You can accomplish so much more with the encouragement and support of other believers who have the same eternal perspective than you could ever do on your own. No matter how much I chalk it up, you will never know the blessing it can have on your life until you try it for yourself.
I believe the reason that I have built some of my closest friendships is because of the intentionality behind small groups. Through the course of 3 years, we have built the trust that’s needed to share our joys, excitement, sorrows, and fears with one another. During the COVID-19 crisis, we have made it a priority to share with one another, celebrate each other, and even mourn with those we care about. I have had the privilege of befriending some of the most genuine and inspiring Christ followers because of joining a group. I am constantly being pushed and encouraged to make God a priority in my life. I have found that being in a small group provides for a high level of accountability when it comes to my personal quiet time and relationship with the Lord. Even when I fail and let other distractions cloud my day, I still find that same gracious encouragement whether I ask for it or not. In the past 5 weeks alone, our small group has participated in a literal “tailgate” gender reveal party (while 6 feet apart) in a parking lot, had a socially distanced picnic, celebrated/shared via text the job offers and house hunting success of a couple who will be moving over the summer, met in very small groups to play card games or pickle ball, and even dropped off gift baskets and cards of sympathy to a couple who suffered the loss of a loved one in the midst of this pandemic. I don’t know for certain, but I can only hope that having a small group offering constant love, prayers, and support made their loss slightly more bearable.
In life, we cannot control the hills and valleys before us, but I know that not walking through them alone can make each of those things even greater or easier in the end. For that reason, I am forever grateful for my small group. I will leave you with this verse:
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.